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Why you need to give virtual agents a second chance

2nd August 2017 Print

For a digital or automated solution to be worthwhile, it needs to be more efficient than the traditional method it’s replacing. For instance, if you buy an off-brand robot vacuum which you then have to guide around your house using your foot and then a broom handle when you get lazy, you’ll probably find yourself wishing you’d busted out the ol’ upright Dirt Devil to begin with

This is the reason so many people are shaking their heads when it comes to the idea of integrating a virtual agent into their customer service efforts, they simply weren’t better than existing customer service methods. While the virtual agents of yore were a step in the right direction, it wasn’t a big step, and it wasn’t one many organizations were glad they took. 

But things are hardly the same anymore.

Out with the old

As you’ve likely gleaned from their title, virtual agents were dreamed up as a sort-of digital customer service agent. They were meant to offload some of the volume from contact centers and give customers a quick and easy way to get answers to their customer service queries.

In order to do this, the original virtual agents were a script-based software, programmed with a series of questions they were capable of answering, and the exact answers that would be issued for those questions. The first problem with this system was that every single question and answer needed to be manually uploaded by someone in the organization implementing the virtual agent. It was not unheard of for this process to take months.

The second and much larger problem was that this was a static system if there ever was one. If a customer wanted to ask a question that had not been uploaded, there would be no answer, just an annoyed customer sitting in front of a computer wondering why they’d even bothered. No matter how long some poor guy spent dreaming up questions and tediously typing them in, there’s no way he or she covered every possible question and scenario. Frustration abounded, with customers as well as the companies trying to use these agents as a viable customer service channel. 

Room for improvement

Customer service is steadily trending towards self-service, with 67% of consumers already preferring it to human interaction, so it made sense that providers of customer service solutions took a look at virtual agents and set out to find a way it could be done better. 

What the original iteration of virtual agents lacked was that human ability to understand, improvise, learn and improve. Thus, they were not more efficient than the people from whom they were trying to take call or query volume, which means a failing grade for an automated solution, as discussed above. 

Logically then, what the next version of virtual agents required was precisely that ability to go off-script, understanding questions and providing relevant answers without explicit programming. For today’s leading virtual agents this means using natural language processing to grasp context and understand humans the way humans actually communicate including things like typos and slang, and then provide answers from a self-learning knowledge base that has access to limitless sources of content and information – including information on each customer based on their current and past interactions, allowing for personalized customer service. 

You’re seeing that new breed of leading virtual agent through new eyes, aren’t you?

Going the self-service route

If there ever were a time to onboard a digital self-service option for customer service, that time is now. Customers are more demanding than ever, there’s more competition for those customers than ever, customers have more outlets to complain about subpar customer service than ever - and your customer service employees are likely struggling under the strain. 

Digital self-service tools like virtual agents and chatbots are available 24/7, infinitely scalable for any influx of customers, can often be integrated into popular platforms like Facebook Messenger and SMS text messaging, can make for a more seamless and personalized customer service experience across a number of platforms, and overall make it quicker and easier for your customers to help themselves to the information and answers they’re seeking, frustration averted. So go ahead, get back together with the updated, optimal version of virtual agents, and maybe invest in the good robot vacuum while you’re at it.